The TV Repairman:
Good news for all you folks tuning in the Indianapolis 500 Sunday (11 a.m.) hoping to see a fender bender early (and often): They have taken away the apron on the inside of the track, narrowing the width on all the turns by 16 feet.
"The move," explained lead ABC announcer Paul Page, "is to slow the cars down as the Indy people have been concerned with the increase in speed for some time now. The drivers weren't supposed to drive below the white line [noting the apron], but, like Mario Andretti said, 'If you don't want me to race there, don't pave it.' "
The way Page sees it, "back in the mid-'70s, there were only five or six guys capable of winning. These days, the way the race has been internationalized, at least half the field, maybe three-quarters, has a chance. Nine of the first 10 field positions are held by foreign drivers, which gives an indication of how big this race has become around the world. The race is seen everywhere."
The producer, Bob Goodrich, promises that the goof-up in which last year's dramatic finish was missed by a bad camera angle selected by director Don Ohlmeyer (who works for NBC, incidentally) will not be repeated this time around because a majority of ABC's 34 cameras will be stationed on the inside of the track, not the outside.
* Home Teams Sports has a tape of tomorrow's NCAA lacrosse semifinals pitting North Carolina (1) vs. Johns Hopkins (4) and Princeton (2) vs. Syracuse (3) Sunday beginning at 1 p.m. It's in tough with the Indy 500 on ABC, French Open tennis and the NBA playoffs (except in Baltimore) on NBC, Colonial golf on CBS, Seniors golf on ESPN and the usual glut of Sunday afternoon baseball and auto racing on the cable channels.
* "When you talk about Toronto," said Bill Clement, ESPN's hockey analyst, "you're talking about a big, old and slow team." No mincing words from this guy, who together with fellow analyst John Davidson and play-by-play men Gary Thorne and Mike Emrick have turned in a superlative effort covering the Stanley Cup playoffs on ESPN.
What has made them so good is that by not being straight shills for the NHL, they have given audiences credit for having intelligence, and that's a step in the right direction when it comes to sports broadcasting.
For instance, concerning hockey's still-lagging ratings despite the competition being close and exciting for weeks, Clement says: "We're all aware how far hockey has fallen behind the other sports the last few years. There's no doubt we've got work to do in all areas, scheduling, packaging and even with regard to some of the rules and perceptions of the game."
Imagine someone in baseball coming out and admitting that the national contract the game has with the networks is in need of major repair.
Clement, an ex-player well schooled in the traditions of the game, also says, "we very definitely have to jazz up the game. Things have to be done to up-tempo the style in which the game is presented so that kids can relate to it. Right now, there's nothing a youngster who's into MTV can hook onto."
As a native Canadian, Clement says he has mixed feelings about a Montreal-Toronto showdown for the Cup, should the Los Angeles Gretzkys lose Game 7: "I grew up near Toronto and rooted for the Maple Leafs while my brother was a Canadiens fan. But while Toronto wins with its slow, methodical, defensive style, I don't know if it appeals to viewers."
Spoken like a true TV guy who realizes ratings are the name of the game.
* Don't forget, the "This Week in Baseball" program Sunday on Channel 2 (11:30 a.m.) has the story about former Washington Senators pitcher Bert Shepard, who appeared in a big-league game despite missing the bottom portion of a leg as the result of a plane crash in World War II. Shepard and TWIB visited Austria last week, where he was reunited with the doctor who saved his life. They also visited the town in the former East Germany where Shepard was downed and talked to an elderly woman in the village of Kremmin into whose back yard the P-40 crashed.
* Talk about a long shot. Both Ruelas brothers, Rafael and Gabriel, scheduled to fight on USA's "Tuesday Night Fights" came up with injuries on the same day and had to pull out. As a result, Bonecrusher Smith jumps in, and he will be opposed by a "suitable opponent."
* Do you suppose CBS using Maury Povich as a featured commentator on last weekend's Kemper Open telecasts had anything to do with wife Connie Chung getting the co-anchor job on the network's "Evening News" next to Dan Rather?
* The CBS baseball game tomorrow (1 p.m.) pits the Giants against the Braves . . . to be joined on your remote control by Game 3 of the Bulls-Knicks series at 3:30 p.m. . . . NBC sends along the French Open tomorrow and Sunday at noon and Monday at 9 a.m. The network and ESPN, the during-the-week carrier, can do themselves and us a big favor by outlawing interviews with Jennifer Capriati.
* Betcha a smile flashed across the face of Jack Whitaker the other night listening to ESPN commentator John Davidson describe Toronto fans as "raving lunatics." Recall, Whitaker, during his CBS days, referred to the crowd at the Masters golf tournament as a "mob," and was banished forevermore from Augusta National.
* The NBA playoff game between Seattle and Phoenix Sunday at 3:30 p.m. isn't on Channel 2 (the Orioles showing up at 4), so find a friend who gets Washington's Channel 4. . . . A good off-the-beaten-path watch is the Alamo Challenge swimming meet on TNT tomorrow at 5 p.m.
* What's the big deal about NBC not even subjecting former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs to an audition before taking him aboard? He was going to be hired by the network of coaches anyway.